Wednesday 22 December 2021


Arthur T. Merrick provides this charming image from the Dec. 2nd, 1899 issue of Life Magazine. Merry Christmas to all, and I hope Santa makes it on time!

Wednesday 8 December 2021

The Rankin/Bass Holiday Special Cinematic Universe

Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe became a billion dollar franchise, there have been many attempts at replicating its success with every available intellectual property lying around. Marvel did not invent the concept of an interlinked series of films and television shows, however. Between 1923 and 1959, Universal Studios produced 72 horror films that eventually wove together in the ongoing battles between Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Frankenstein Monster. Toho Studios in the 50's, 60's, and 70's eventually linked all of their giant monster movies together into a single "Showa Era" continuity headlined by Godzilla. Another studio to try their hand was Rankin/Bass, who produced the preeminent series of holiday specials beginning with 1964's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Richard Vincent Culter's "The Gay Nineties"

The actual 1890's were not especially gay for the United States. The Panic of 1893, caused by a contraction in foreign commodities trade and subsequent run on US banks to exchange dollars for gold, lead to an economic depression through much of the decade. Stock prices declined, over 500 banks closed, 15,000 businesses did the same, followed by farms and numerous railroads including Union Pacific, Northern Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. Unemployment was as high as 40% in some areas and foreclosed mortgages were a common thing, creating the enduring image of the boarded up, abandoned Victorian mansion. Strikes among the industrial workforce were also increasingly common and the decade ended with the Spanish-American War and the Klondike Gold Rush.  

Yet it was also the decade of the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition and significant technological advancements. Electricity replaced gas lighting, the automobile became more common and more affordable, Ragtime and Vaudeville grew in popularity, and film became a thing. When the children of the 1890's came of age in the post-World War One milieu, they looked back with nostalgia on their younger years (as each generation is given to).

Then along came Richard Vincent Cutler, who began a series of nostalgic cartoons in Charles Dana Gibson's Life Magazine in 1925. In 1927, the cartoons were collected in a single volume titled The Gay Nineties, An Album of Reminiscent Drawings. Cutler is largely credited with having originated the term "Gay Nineties" as a label not for the decade itself but for that fond, nostalgic reminiscence for it. The following are a selection of The Gay Nineties cartoons from the pages of Life. Click on each image for a larger, more legible, version. 

Wednesday 27 October 2021

The Haunted House by Segundo de Chomón

The Haunted House is a delightful little trick film by Spanish pioneer of effects films, Segundo de Chomón. Coming out the same year as his better-known The Electric Hotel, here de Chomón reverts to full-on fantasy without the scientific glosses, placing his characters inside a truly haunted house.

Wednesday 13 October 2021

The Tables Turned by E.E. Kellett

It can be a hard afterlife out there for a ghost. A proper appointment to a lucrative position can be difficult to come by, especially in a skeptical age. That is where the narrator of our story The Tables Turned comes in. His job is placing ghosts with needful clients... Though it isn't without its challenges. One customer can't seem to keep his house haunted, and the reasons why become apparent with the tragedy of the most recent applicant to the position.

Written by E.E. Kellett, The Tables Turned appeared in the January 1903 edition of Pearson's Magazine. Click on the page for a larger version.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

Life Magazine's "In 1950"

The Spanish-American War was short-lived, lasting from April to August of 1898 and ending with the Treaty of Paris in which Spain's Pacific holdings were transferred to the United States' growing sphere of oceanic influence. This included the Philippines, which naturally didn't sit well with Filipinos. The very next year, a guerilla war began that lasted longer than the actual Spanish-American War. The Philippine-American War lasted from 1899 to 1902 and claimed the lives of at least 200,000 Filipino civilians with high estimates up to a million. Among Filipinos, this was considered simply the next stage of the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish that began in 1896. Unfortunately it ended in a loss for the freedom fighters and, in a sense, for the esteem of the United States.   

This war was not without its critics at home. Chief among them was the original Life Magazine. Starting publication in 1883 and lasted to 1935 as an illustration-heavy magazine of light humour and social commentary. The magazine's style, carried over from the "Gay Nineties," was not well received in the post-Great War milieu and it was bought out by publisher Henry Luce in 1936. Luce transformed Life into the all-photographic newsmagazine with which latter generations are more familiar. 

The following illustration, by C.H. Ebert, comes from the July 26, 1900 issue of Life. Titled "In 1950," it is a retro-futurist commentary on the protracted nature of the Philippine guerilla war:

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Strange Ships that Sail in the Skies

The following article ran down the wire of several newspapers on Sunday, May 9, 1897, including the Saint Paul Globe, Buffalo Times, and the Sunday News of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. In it, many a prognostication is made of what ways in which man might take to the air. Suffice it to say that few such ideas took hold. 

Click on the image, and right click again, for a larger, more readable version.

And here are some close-ups of the various flying machines (including one that worked its way into the weblog logo!).

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Gaston Velle's A Little Jules Verne

French silent film pioneer and rival to Georges Méliès, Gaston Velle went direct to source with a loving tribute to Jules Verne. Released in 1907, Un Petit Jules Verne has a boy reading from the great author before bed. Drifting off to sleep, images of Verne, a comet, and other fantasmagoria appear in his dreams. One such marvel - a flying machine - parks itself long enough for the boy climb in a whisked off on his own adventure.

Wednesday 4 August 2021

St. Louis in 2010

The following vision of  "Looking Up Olive Street, St. Louis, Missouri, in the Year 2010" comes from a 1910 issue of the Greater St. Louis Magazine. Click for a larger image.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

The Grand Canyon's Lost Civilization

It began with a modest announcement in the March 12, 1909 edition of the Arizona Gazette announcing "G.E. KINCAID REACHES YUMA". The brief article stated that "G.E. Kincaid of Lewiston, Idaho, arrived in Yuma after a trip from Green River, Wyoming, down the entire course of the Colorado River. He is the second man to make this journey and came alone in a small skiff, stopping at his pleasure to investigate the surrounding country. He left Green River in October having a small covered boat with oars, and carrying a fine camera, with which he secured over 700 views of the river and canyons which were unsurpassed. Mr. Kincaid says one of the most interesting features of the trip was passing through the sluiceways at Laguna dam. He made this perilous passage with only the loss of an oar." It concluded with "Some interesting archaeological discoveries were unearthed and altogether the trip was of such interest that he will repeat it next winter in the company of friends."

A circa 1900 photo of the Grand Canyon's interior.

What  archaeological discoveries were these? The following month, April 5, the Arizona Gazette furnished a much more complete report of an absolutely astonishing discovery:


Mysteries of Immense High Cavern Being Brought to Light


Remarkable Finds Indicate Ancient People Migrated From Orient 

Wednesday 7 July 2021

Im Jahre 2000 mit Stollwerck Chocolade

Retro-futuristic cards were a popular inclusion for chocolates in Europe. The following set was produced by Stollwerck Chocolade, a German chocolatier founded in 1839. Of course, for as popular as retro-futuristic topics were, they were a drop in the bucket of the overall production of these advertising collectables. Stollwerck produced some 5,000 different six-card sets.  

The entire set could be collected into a framed matte with additional poetry. The following is an example of a set and a few close-ups.

Wednesday 23 June 2021

John Hale's Flying Machine by Anna Leach

"Where's my flying car?"

That is the cry of the disappointed futurist who bemoans that our most ambitious dreams have yet to reach fruition... No flying cars, no robot maids, no lunar colonies, alas. We must only make due with high-speed internet, 4K digital displays, personal computer/telecommunication devices kept in our pockets, instantaneous news and messaging, robot vacuums, and other dreary modern conveniences.

In reality, what we need is not always the same as what we want. And more often than not, what we need isn't even apparent to us until someone invents it. And occasionally, those aren't even the things the inventor set out to invent.  

Anna Leach explores this topic in her comic short story John Hale's Flying Machine. Published in the 1894-95 volume of The Argosy magazine, her literary misdirection explores the idea of accidental invention through that classic trope of the Gay Nineties: boys down by the ol' fishin' hole...

Click on each page for a larger version.

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Walter R. Booth's The Over-Incubated Baby

As we all know, infancy is a child's most grotesque stage of development. So much neediness and squalling and fluids. If only there was some way to accelerate the growth process and skip that whole baby stage entirely. But if such technology existed, it would have be to be used carefully. An accident, like that outlined in Walter R. Booth's 1901 trick film The Over-Incubated Baby, would be disastrous. 

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Life Magazine's Glimpses into the Future

I wonder if the relative degree of optimism in futuristic visions can be determined by how far away they are placed. For example, Walt Disney, ever the optimist, set his Tomorrowland in the amazing year 1986... A mere 31 years after Disneyland opened in 1955. Most Victorian-Edwardian retro-futurism seems to have opted for a safer 100 years hence. Occasionally they made those same lapses of placing the future too close to the present that make us really chuckle today. The following "Glimpses into the Future" ran through Life Magazine during 1898 and 1899, and projected into such distant times as 1901, 1912, 1930, and 1976. They do include some more objectionable fears to modern multicultural sensibilities, and aren't especially optimistic, but also hold out perennial dreams like the flying car. Click on each image for a larger version. 

Wednesday 12 May 2021

The Tricycle of the Future by Frank R. Stockton

Though little discussed today, save perhaps for one of his most famous fairy tales, Frank R. Stockton (1834-1902) was often compared to his contemporary Mark Twain as a humourist and writer of children's fiction. That most famous work is the ambiguous fairy tale The Lady, or the Tiger? published in The Century Magazine in 1882. In it, the lover of a princess is sentenced by the king to choose between two doors. Behind one is a tiger that will rip him asunder, behind the other is one of the princess' handmaidens whom he would marry. The princess furtively directs him to one of the doors... but the story ends before revealing which one. 

Prior to The Lady, or the Tiger?, Stockton served as assistant editor on St. Nicholas Magazine, one of the higher caliber magazines for children available in the later half of the 19th century. There he sharpened his wit in writing not only fairy tales, but also Scientific Romances. He would go on to write for St. Nicholas' parent-magazine The Century and Harper's, eventually producing full novels. Most notable of these is The Great War Syndicate (1889) about a future war between the United States and Great Britain. 

The Tricycle of the Future is a delightful short story that exemplifies one of the great joys of Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances: how writers of the 19th century arrived at modern technologies through the most abstract, complicated, and absurd ways. In this case, Stockton's boy inventor comes up with the idea for what is essentially an automobile with a six-horsepower engine using six actual horses. But as typical for boy inventors from Darius Green on down, it doesn't quite work out as anticipated.

The following is the complete Tricycle of the Future as it appeared in the May 1885 volume of St. Nicholas Magazine. Click on each page for a larger version.   

Wednesday 28 April 2021

La Folie du Docteur Tube

Short, comic, and simply weird, La Folie du Docteur Tube (1915) is a strange film to have come from Abel Gance, the acclaimed director of such serious and psychological films as J'accuse (1919) and Napoléon (1927). A true double-dome egghead scientist discovers a white powder that, in either fact or perception, distorts reality. He unleashes this plague on his houseboy and a quartet of young lovers until they forcefully compel him to reverse the process.

There are overtones of drug use in any film involving mysterious white powders that affect reality, but more than that, La Folie du Docteur Tube was an opportunity for Gance to begin a long career of innovative cinematography. Lenses and funhouse-type apparatus help achieve the effect of reality going berserk. Gance would be renowned for his work in later films. For Docteur Tube, the company was so outraged by this madness that they refused to release it.

  La Folie du Docteur Tube paired with the
album Twirligig by Jonti.

Saturday 17 April 2021

Announcing "Science Fiction of the Gay Nineties: An Anthology - 1890-1910"

 The latest in my series of Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances has been released!

To the generation that came of age during the horrors of the World Wars, the Turn of the Century took on a nostalgic life of its own. 

Strolling ladies with bustles, parasols, and feathered hats. Men in dapper suits, straw boaters, and handlebar moustaches. Barbershop quartets singing “Sweet Adeline” and “In the Good Old Summertime.” Penny-farthing bicycles weaving between horse-drawn trolleys and newfangled horseless carriages. Thomas Edison’s latest invention. The town marching band playing in the park bandstand. Colourful Queen Anne homes accented with gingerbread trim. Gibson Girls staring indolently from the pages of Life and Harper’s. Casey at the bat. Ice wagons and ice boxes and ice cream parlours. Dime novels and dime stores. Vaudeville shows. Ragtime music. Silent movies. Party-line telephones. Suffragettes in green and purple sashes. Old fashioned rowboat dates. Gaslit evenings on Main Street. These happy days of youth before The Great War, The Spanish Flu, The Roaring Twenties, and The Great Depression were the “Gay Nineties.”

The real 1890’s and 1900’s were an era of change and a cornucopia of invention, which lead inevitably to fictional tales of scientific discovery and technological progress in the popular magazines of the era. This volume reprints the lost science fiction of Pearson’s, The Century, The Black Cat, and Cosmopolitan, featuring over a dozen tales by such celebrated authors as Mark Twain, Ellis Parker Butler, Herbert Quick, and George Chetwyn Griffith.

To order Science Fiction of the Gay Nineties: An Anthology - 1890-1910, visit Amazon or click on the image above. If you can also share this post or the link on your social networks, leave a review on Amazon, and rate Science Fiction of the Gay Nineties, that would go a long way to helping spread the word!

Thank you very much for you support of this blog for all these years and for your purchase of my new anthology.

Wednesday 14 April 2021

A Telepathic Wooing by James Buckham

Love is a complicated business. Just meeting someone is challenging enough, but once you've swiped right or whatever you do these days, the really difficult part is expressing your affections. For many, many people, the threat of rejection is enough to stall any effort to do so. If only there was some vehicle by which one's true feelings could be expressed without any of the vulnerability intrinsic to the act, without the risk of humiliation. In junior high school, that mechanism is your best friend. In adulthood, at the end of the 19th century, it might necessitate more esoteric tools. 

The following short story by James Buckham appeared in the February 1896 volume of The Black Cat Magazine

Saturday 3 April 2021

The Jungle Book on the Silver Screen

Today's special post comes by way of the 2021 Classic Literature on Film Blogathon. Click on the banner above for more interesting articles on the cinema's sometimes tense relationship with literature!

Published in 1894 as a series of moralizing fairy tales for his daughter, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book is a classic of adventure literature. For those of us raised on cinematic versions it can be surprising to learn that Mowgli's exploits comprise a relatively small portion of the book. In fact, they are drawn from only three chapters. Absent are the white fur seal Kotick, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the mongoose, and even Akela the proud wolf whose name was officially lent to the leaders of Cub Scout packs. Yet it's the stories of Mowgli that have most inspired filmmakers and audiences for generations: a reiteration of the "wild man" myth that has endured from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Tarzan of the Apes

Wednesday 31 March 2021

Segundo de Chomón's Excursion dans la Lune

Copyright law comes and goes in waves. "Information wants to be free" say many as they illegally upload movies to shadowy servers. International trade seeks ever more uniform and pro-corporate regulations, while media companies simultaneously seek ever more restrictive censorship of individuals,  together posing what may be the greatest threats to freedom of speech and information since the rise of Communism. A century ago, the rules were much looser, with their attendant benefits and challenges. Georges Méliès was, sadly, one of the ones who lost the most from those challenges.

Méliès' classic Le Voyage dans la Lune (English: A Trip to the Moon) was the blockbuster smash of 1902, provoking a number of copyright violations. Thomas Edison, unsurprisingly, had his men smuggle copies of the film out of France, distributing them on his own in the United States without a dime going to Méliès. The French maestro's plans for an American debut were foiled, leading as surely to his financial demise as the development of the matured Hollywood filmmaking system.

Not helping was Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomón. Getting into film in 1901, he produced his first trick film - Gulliver en el país de los gigantes - in 1903. Pathé took notice and saw in de Chomón a competent filmmaker who could compete with Méliès. After releasing a series of his own trick films in Méliès' style, he was asked to essentially replicate A Trip to the Moon.  

Like numerous remakes throughout cinema history, Excursion dans la Lune (English: An Excursion to the Moon) is serviceable. All the pieces are in the right place and, in many places, it is even more refined than the original. Knowing where all the pieces go and understanding why they go there are two different things, however. An Excursion to the Moon lacks the fanciful sensibilities of Méliès, the wry blurred line between the astronomer and the astrologer, the joviality of the etheric spheres in a romantic cosmos. Though de Chomón's star rose just as Méliès' declined, posterity has been more kind to the latter than to the former. Méliès has - rightly - been canonized that the true innovator and artiste. It takes de Chomón's own films, original in content, to showcase his own abilities and separate his legacy from that of his competitor. 

Wednesday 17 March 2021

By the Water with James Tissot

Born Jacques Joseph Tissot in 1836 in Nantes, France, he had already become an established artist by the time he moved to London in 1871. During that phase of his life, "James" Tissot specialized in scenes from the docks and aboard ship... Likely, he was influenced by the same seagoing culture of Nantes that also affected Jules Verne so deeply, who was himself born in Nantes in 1828. The following is a selection of Tissot's works on that theme, including his series of paintings that appear to be using the same room and same models. Click on the each image for a larger version. Without further ado...   

Ball on Shipboard (1874)

Wednesday 3 March 2021

John Jacob Astor's A Journey in Other Worlds

Some people, despite their topmost efforts, celebrity, or wealth in life, are best remembered for the manner of their death. John Jacob Astor IV is one such man: a millionaire born to a wealthy American dynasty, he graduated Harvard and obtained a rank of colonel in the Spanish-American War to become the richest man to die aboard the Titanic.

Born to the blue-blooded Astor family in 1864, John Jacob inherited the best possible circumstances for the time. He went to the best schools and utilized the skills learned there to increase his wealth through real estate. He built New York's famous Astoria Hotel, which adjoined to the hotel built by and named for his cousin, William Waldorf Astor. With this wealth he indulged his love of invention, patenting a type of bicycle brake, a turbine engine, a pneumatic road improver, and a means of producing gas from peat moss. In 1898 he joined the ranks as a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish-American War, whereupon he fought in Cuba. As a celebrity capitalist, he was no stranger to scandal: Astor divorced his wife of 18 years to marry 18 year old Madeleine Talmadge Force in 1911. Shunned and gossiped about, the pair went on a tour of Europe and Egypt in the company of Molly Brown, herself a nouveau riche outside of the aristocratic cliques of New England society. Madeleine became pregnant on the trip and they were forced to return home aboard the most luxurious ocean liner ever built. Madeleine made it back to New York. John did not.

John Jacob Astor is also notable for having tried his hand at writing a Scientific Romance in the style of Jules Verne, entitled A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future. This 1894 novel is a work of retro-futurism, being set in 2088, and exposes Astor's fixation on the issues of his time as only a work charting the future course of humanity can reveal. The first two-thirds wax on history and exploration from the very defined perspective of a millionaire capitalist, and the last third expands into a strange but sympathetic treatise on philosophy, morals and life after death.

Wednesday 3 February 2021

Scientific Romances of the Seventies

In 1954, Walt Disney set about proving the mettle of his studio and Science Fiction by producing one of the first great genre epics of the post-war era, turning to Jules Verne to supply him with the setting and outline of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. That, in turn, inspired a lengthy series of Victorian Scientific Romances rebranded as Atomic Age parables that stretched until the end of the Sixties, running parallel to the more modern Science Fiction of the time. However, after the Summer of Love, the global protests of 1968, the Stonewall riots, the Tet Offensive, and the moon landing, the heady days of ray gun adventures and cautionary atomic optimism were passed. In their place came a strange affectation for pessimistic, deromanticized films whose ponderous lengths and turgid performances somehow gave the impression of profound meaning, no better exemplified than in the first truly large-scale, full-colour, big-budget Science Fiction epic since 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

An instructive comparison can be made between the two. Above all else, 2001 is a film about the emergence of consciousness. First, we see the emergence of primate consciousness in the "Dawn of Man" sequence and the connection between consciousness, technology and the violent struggle of survival. In the middle section, which contains the only part of 2001 that may be considered a story, we see the emergence of technological consciousness as HAL 9000 gains sentience and repeats the violent struggle for survival. Finally, in "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" we see the emergence of stellar consciousness as a state of being that cannot be described, only show in slit-screen effects over footage of Monument Valley for half an hour. Yet all of Kubrick's brilliant cinematography is a disingenuous construct, meant to disguise the fact that the entire movie is conceptual. It is a 161 minute depiction of a theme without any meaningful ideas, and certainly very little that approaches anything like a story or characters. Kubrick asks us to be in awe of the technical spectacle of 2001, accepting that the spectacle in-itself comprises something kind of like a philosophical idea.

By contrast, 20,000 Leagues possesses not only a theme (atomic power), but an idea (how atomic power should be used responsibly) conveyed through an impassioned human drama. Whereas Kubrick may be the greater artiste, Disney is by far the greater showman. He no doubt recognized that you can't carry a 121 minute movie on theme or even ideas alone. A concept is what gets you started, a foundation upon which you build a movie and not the movie itself. Therefore the idea of atomic power's responsible use underlies an actual story about a trio of men who are taken captive aboard Captain Nemo's submarine ship... A story overflowing with human drama, tragedy, action, and charismatic personalities. It is a heartily Romantic, passionate film. Even the settings are richly Romantic, from the beauty of the ocean to the opulence of Nemo's salon. 2001, on the other hand, depicts the vast expanses of the cosmos as listlessly dull. All the ballet music in the world cannot bandage the gaping wound in which space, spaceships and even whole planets are stripped bare of anything interesting. With newly expansive stellar consciousness pushing beyond the infinite, all Dave Bowman sees are infinite dead worlds not unlike the dessicated desert that was Earth at the Dawn of Man. Though trying to communicate space as a place of infinite growth and possibility, Kubrick somehow only succeeds in making space looking really boring. It is no wonder, after 2001 and its offspring like The Andromeda Strain, Soylent Green, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, THX 1138, Blade Runner, and Alien, that the original Star Wars should have been such a huge hit. Its return to a Romantic vision of space begat a string of genuinely well-loved Science Fiction films through the Eighties and early Nineties, like Back to the Future, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T., Aliens, The Terminator and Terminator 2, Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park, and even, God forbid, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

In between were the 1970's, and though those dusty old Victorian Scientific Romances were put back on the shelf, a few attempts were made to revive the genre, with varying degrees of success.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Jolly Top Hat

The Plimptons explain Victorian economics and class warfare through a giant robot...

Wednesday 6 January 2021

The Great Unknown by Clement Melville Keys

There are two great intractable expanses that have always captured the imaginations of writers, being the vast desolations at the Earth's poles. From Arthur Gordon Pym to Captain Hatteras to the Miskatonic University Expedition to the Antarctic to the incessant true-life quests to find the South and North poles, and the Northwest Passage, the endless ice have attracted adventurers and lovers of mystery.

The North-West Passage by John Everett Millais (1874)

The Great Unknown by Clement Melville Keys was originally published in the 41st volume (1902-03) of The Argosy magazine, and reads more like the set-up for a larger story than a story unto itself. Though published as a short story it could easily be a first chapter. It was not to be, at least as I have been able to uncover. Keys is far better remembered for his role as a financier for Curtiss-Wright, China National Aviation Corporation, North American Aviation and TWA. Though born in Canada in 1876, he came to be known as "the father of commercial aviation in America." Literature was apparently more of a recreational sideline.

That leaves the titular Great Mystery up for the reader's imagination to discover... Or to simply savour, respecting that sometimes a perpetual terra incognita can be more enticing than the actual discovery. 

The complete text of The Great Unknown appears below, as published in The Argosy. Click on each page for a larger version.